Clark County Fair to be held in limited capacity in July

Organizers, 4-Hers looking to make best of limited Clark County Fair

Clark County 4-H members are settling into the reality that they will only have junior fair only this year due to concerns over the coronvirus.

The Clark County Fair Board announced many of its plans for a junior-fair only event this month based on initial guidelines from the state of Ohio. The state later changed some of the guidelines allowing fairs to be held.

4-H members and their families are left planning for a fair that will be very different from any other they’ve participated in, while bracing for additional last minute changes as the state as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

RELATED: Fair board announces plans

Through it all, Cathie Maine, a 4-H adviser, has one rule.

“I told all my people and my 4-H club: Roll with it,” she said. “I already told them I’m not going to listen to any complaints. I’m not going to listen to any grousing around.”

The mother of former 4-H members and grandmother of current members, Maine advises the Kountry Kids club.

Although she has missed being able to hold the club’s usual meetings, she said the vibe she gets from her club – which consists of about 75 members this year – is mostly positive.

“Actually, my club is very upbeat about it,” she said. “Sure you’re going to miss your rides, you’re going to miss all the other crazy stuff, but the reason you’re in 4-H is to show your animals, not to go ride rides.

“In my 4-H club, we have always run on the idea that going to the fair is the icing on the cake. You work really, really hard. You get your animals together. We enjoy each other’s company at club meetings and different things like that, and then we go to the fair and show what we’ve learned.”

As was the case with the cancellation of sports in the late winter and spring, there is a feeling the kids losing activities are taking it better than some adults.

Hannah Weymouth called the cancellation of 4-H camp heartbreaking and confirmed regret she won’t be able to experience a full fair in her last year of 4-H, but the Northwestern graduate who shows market steers still is able to look on the bright side.

“I am extremely thankful for the 10 years I have experienced in 4-H and the memories and success I have been able to experience, but this not the way I imagined my last year,” said Weymouth, a member of the Guys and Dolls 4-H club who recently finished her freshman year at Wittenberg. “I’m thankful for the county fair and everyone involved in the decision to have a fair and them taking every little thing into consideration when it comes to this topic. I can’t imagine being in their shoes.”

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Lahela Snyder, the chairperson of the 4-H Dairy Committee and mother of two kids involved in 4-H, confirmed planning livestock shows has been no easy task.

With some exceptions, the Ohio Department of Health has banned gatherings of more than 10 people until July 1. Although the fair is not set to begin until July 25, that could mean limited class sizes and no in-person spectators if the order is extended.

“We do have a plan to reduce the class sizes so that we can meet the requirements, counting up the students that are participating, along with the judge, and an announcer who hopefully is not going to have to do multiple things at once but may have to,” she said.

“Parents want to see their kids show and that’s going to be hard because if we are limited to 10 people in a building, so we’re looking at doing some Facebook Live or something like that so parents can at least see the show and be a part of that as much as possible.”

She said the barns could also be divided into sections to allow more people to be in them at once.

“We have some draft plans in place to meet all of those requirements so that we can make the fair the best experience that we can for the kids,” Snyder said.

That job may have gotten easier when the state updated guidelines for fairs, including an allowance of grandstand events with at most half capacity (or 2,500 people) and permission to hold livestock shows similar to the way they have been conducted in previous years – including with families in attendance.

That is not a guarantee they will be, though.

Clark County Fair executive director Dean Blair said fair planners were excited to see the easing of restrictions on spectators, but he pointed out there remains some uncertainty about how things will go next month.

“We are extremely optimistic about how this is going to enhance and make our junior fair even better and more family friendly because what we’re assuming and reading in the new guidelines is things like allowing only 10 (people) in a barn is not going to be the case,” Blair said. “It appears that you know the six-foot distance rule is very much in play, but as long as a person sticks with a six-foot rule it appears that in an open-air barn, you could have more people than 10. And it appears maybe we could even use some of the, I would assume bleachers are the same as grandstands, and maybe 50% capacity, as long as families sit six feet from each other.”

Despite the optimism, Blair said the board will remain cautious because the state’s reopening guidelines are not binding while the department of health’s orders are.

“Once it becomes a real order, then each county has to have their own interpretation from its health commissioner of how they interpret that,” said Blair, who also confirmed the county board will receive a $50,000 grant from the state to help offset costs of holding a junior fair with limited or no revenue opportunities.

READ MORE: Clark County to hold limited fair out of ‘fiduciary responsibility’

Through a spokesperson for the Clark County Combined Health District, environmental health director Larry Shaffer said he is meeting with Blair.

“With Clark County as the home to 4-H, the Clark County Fair is an important tradition,” Shaffer said. “I am meeting with the executive director to review the governor’s guidance and their plans in regard to how the guidance will be implemented for the 2020 fair.”

However it plays out, Maine’s message is not likely to change.

“I told the kids I told them in a mass text, ‘Who knows, maybe this will be one of the most fun fairs we’ve ever had. You don’t have a lot of other distractions. You’re just out there with your buddies. You’re there in your barn. You’re there with your animals, family members. I personally I think it’s gonna be good. I really do.”

For Weymouth, still being able to show is key.

“Overall the thing I look forward to the most at the fair is the adrenaline rush of stepping foot into a grand champion drive or a heated class, and I’m extremely thankful I will still be able to experience this is my final year of showing animals,” she said.

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